President Obama has returned to Washington, ready for a final effort to keep the nation from the fiscal cliff. But speaker Boehner has told members of the House of Representatives they need not come back just now. He will give them 48 hours notice if their presence is required. And so our own representative, Tom Reed, can continue to rest from his labors as the country edges ever closer to the fiscal cliff.
The cliff may now be all but unavoidable. There simply may not be time to complete legislative action on a solution before the 112th Congress comes to an end at midnight, Monday. But if House Republicans truly love their country, they should be making every effort to beat the clock and resolve the crisis. They should not be on vacation.
The full implications of the wholly avoidable disaster that confronts the nation are unknowable at this point, but we know that everyone’s tax rates will go up on January 1, and that draconian cuts in federal programs, both civilian and military, will ensue. We know that 2 million of the long-term unemployed will lose their emergency unemployment insurance benefits immediately, and that another million will be cut off in the first quarter of 2013. The alternative minimum tax problem will not be fixed. This tax, intended to assure that the super-rich not use their deductions to escape paying their fair share, will ensnare 28 million Americans earning between $100,000 and $500,000 when they file their 2012 returns, unless Congress, as it has done in the past, adjusts the threshold for inflation.
Other, little-mentioned, cruelties will occur when we go over the cliff. Millions of low and middle-income families will lose a tax credit that has helped them meet college costs, for example, and single mothers working full time at minimum wage will see their child tax credit cut from $1,725 to $165. (For more, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/27/opinion/a-fiscal-cliff-endgame.html?ref=opinion&_r=0).
Meanwhile, the country is facing other serious financial problems. Treasury Secretary Geithner has informed Congress that the government will soon reach the limit of its borrowing, unless the debt ceiling is lifted. Republican brinksmanship on this issue in 2011 led to a reduction in the U.S. credit rating, and the final compromise created the fiscal cliff we now face. The Social Security payroll tax holiday, introduced two years ago to help pull the country out of recession, will end on Monday night, hitting everyone’s paycheck. Consumer spending will likely fall as a result. Finally, news comes this morning that an east coast dockworkers’ strike is entirely possible, starting Sunday.
Yet Members of the House continue their holiday break. It’s up to the Senate to do something, Speaker Boehner says.
The Senate has already acted. The House has before it a Senate-passed bill, S. 3412, the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, which would preserve the Bush tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000. It also resolves the alternative minimum tax problem. S. 3412 could be amended in the House to deal with other aspects of the fiscal cliff, conferenced with the Senate, and sent to the President for his signature. The crisis could be resolved. But first the House must return to Washington and get down to work. Urgently.